LONDON — “INTERNATIONAL FAGGOT MAGAZINE FOR INTERESTING HOMOSEXUALS AND THE MEN WHO LOVE THEM.”
The tagline, running over the image of an athletic boy masturbating while wearing only a pair of shorts and gym socks, candidly instructs the reader on the content of BUTT magazine, issue #5, Autumn 2002. Inside the issue, in random order: a photo shoot by Slava Mogutin, an interview of — rigorously naked —electronic music duo Matmos, photographs by Wolfgang Tillmans for a feature titled: “No Shock, No Scandal, Just a Gay Couple on Holiday in Lucca, Italy.”
At the beginning of the 2000s Dutch publishers Gert Jonkers and Jop van Bennekom started to edit BUTT from a small basement office in Amsterdam. Their aim was to tackle the then mainstream gay aesthetic of perfectly groomed men with something dirtier, frank, and authentic. Half lifestyle magazine, half porn zine, over the decade of its activity, from 2001 to 2011, BUTT triggered a new aesthetic in gay subculture: un-styled men in messy flats, pot bellies, body hair and long beards.
From the boy next door to living icons such as Edmund White, Aiden Shaw, John Waters, AA Bronson, Wolfgang Tillmans — who shot the first and the last issue of the magazine — browsing any issue of the magazine meant immediate access to a thriving culture and to an international community of (horny) gay men.
British artist Ian Giles has explored the cultural and social legacy of the magazine in After BUTT, a 34-minute film now on view at Chelsea Space, London. In preparation for making the film, Giles had done first-hand research, interviewing BUTT’s former publishers, editors, and writers. After BUTT’s screenplay is based on these recollections, portrayed in the first scene of the film in which actual scripts are distributed among a group of young, gay men, who re-interpret the various voices.
Reflecting on the origins of the magazine, Jop van Bennekom, played by a handsome man in his 20s, speaks:
I think we responded to what was, basically, a representational crisis of homosexuality. The representation of gay was so commodified, so made into a lifestyle, very clean, so commercial … Porn was still stuck in the AIDS crisis, there wasn’t anything spontaneous about gay porn. We started with how we can make a magazine that we think represents us: the gays we know, the sex we like…
Choosing actors younger than the real men behind the magazine creates a sense of distance that matches the one generated by any defunct publication. In fact, the slight uneasiness felt in watching the actors confidently speaking about facts they couldn’t have witnessed due to their age has a precise purpose. Giles tells me:
I choose to work with guys in their 20s because I wanted a generational shift. The men I interviewed from BUTT are late 40s / early 50s (I am in my early 30s); the guys in the film are in their 20s. I wanted to transfer narratives between generations.
His casting decision also works as an effective reminder of the dynamics between different generations of gay men, and their urge to be part of a cohesive community.
Although BUTT quickly turned into an extraordinarily popular hub, connecting hundreds of otherwise isolated people through its website, “After BUTT” tackles some of the criticism leveled at the magazine — above all, the failure in representing different ethnic groups and different gay identities.
As it usually happens with any successful cultural phenomenon started as a niche venture, by the end of the 2000s BUTT had become so mainstream that its aesthetic had turned into an established style. Jonkers and van Bennekom felt felt that many of the questions they were asking themselves when they had started producing the magazine had been answered, and so they stopped publishing it.
In the liminal time frame of the end of the 20th century, before the spread of Photoshop and hipster culture, before the rise of social media and the proliferation of porn on tumblr, BUTT provided high-quality content, uninformed by the unmistakably pink hue of its pages and by a feeling of absolute freedom.
Not even ten years after the last issue was published, we can look back at the magazine as a terrific document of gay sub-culture during the decade that opened this century. Giles’s film stands both as a timely recognition of BUTT’s legacy and a stimulating conversation piece engaging ongoing discourses about the gay community.
After BUTT continues at Chelsea Space (16 John Islip St, London SW1P 4JU) through March 2.